Loud car horns and taxi drivers cursing the traffic framed the scene behind Kim, as she stood on the top step of a pristine stoop.
Quickly, she checked her phone again.
750 East 16th Street, Union Square. It was definitely the right address.
After rummaging through all of Seth’s old polaroid albums and even digging a little on social media, she’d finally tracked her down.
As Kim walked through the lobby door, she could feel apprehension welling up inside her as she approached the apartment buzzer.
Her heart began to rise in her throat, and suddenly the thought of facing Ayla Syntara again seemed less frightening than the prospect before her.
But Ayla was almost certainly gone for good. A recent article in the Village Voice, detailing the discovery of over a dozen missing persons from the last decade, only further cemented that fact.
Kim let out a deep breath, before hitting the buzzer and hoping for the best.
Three flights up and three doors down, Kim Ramone stood alone in front of apartment 14C.
She’d been buzzed in without an issue, and now all that lay between her and her target was nothing more than a simple push of the doorbell.
Everything about this building felt oddly familiar to Kim. Something about the scent of the air, and the sound of the steps, and even the window outlooking the city nearby, gave her the most powerful feeling of deja vu.
She only remembered so much before the age of seven, so it wouldn’t be surprising to Kim if she’d been here before.
But now was not the time to daydream like Michael.
Instead, she sucked up the rest of her lingering apprehension and pressed hard on the doorbell.
She was greeted with a few seconds of silence, until a female voice yelled out from some feet away behind the door.
“Coming! Oh, not now, Lennox!”
From behind the door, Kim’s acute hearing caught shuffling and the faint noise of a cat meowing. Finally, after the turn of the lock and chain, the door was opened, revealing the apartment’s occupant in full.
She was taller than Kim, with light peach skin and short, spiky black hair.
Kim could only assume the cold didn’t bother her, since she was dressed in a red t-shirt and skinny black jeans that seemed to hug her hips almost uncomfortably.
She stared Kim down with wide eyes, unsure what to say at first. It was only when her cat appeared, nuzzling up against her leg, that she broke from her self-imposed trance.
“Hi.” she said, picking up her cat in the process. “I was wondering when you’d finally come by.”
Lennox purred in response, and that was enough for Kim to follow as she was beckoned inside.
Kim’s mind deconstructed the person before her as they remained silent upon entering the living room.
So this was Billy. This was Seth’s old girlfriend, the same one Ayla and Seth had name dropped alike. And it appeared that she recognized Kim, though Kim didn’t remember her.
But of all the things, the strangest one to ponder over was for Kim to be able to see a living example of her older brother’s taste in women.
It was both incredibly awkward and revealing at the same time.
“Have a seat.” she motioned, putting her cat down. Lennox scampered towards Kim sitting on the couch, eventually deciding to lounge next to her on the empty seat.
“Sorry, she’s just looking for attention. You want anything to drink?” Billy asked politely, and Kim just nodded. She slowly petted Lennox, who just purred lovingly in response.
Nevertheless, Kim continued to remain silent even as Billy came back with a tall, cold glass of lemonade. It was only after taking a sip and having her lips almost pucker from the amount of sugar that she felt ready to speak.
“Sorry to show up out of the blue like this. Some stuff happened last week, and I figured it was time we knew that the other existed.” Kim apologized, but Billy was quick to interject with understanding.
“Hey, it’s okay. I knew you’d come when you were ready. After everything that happened with Seth, you needed time. That’s something you don’t just get over in one day.”
Billy’s expression saddened at the thought.
“Or even in a few years. Take it from me.”
Kim put the drink down, trying her best to sound somewhat assuring.
“He talked about you all the time, you know. I still remembered your name after all this time. And when Ayla said it last week, well, it got me thinking…”
Billy’s fists tightened and her eyes narrowed seriously at the sound of that name. “You know Ayla Syntara?”
“Yeah.” Kim continued. “I tracked her down to her old sideshow in Astroland. She tried to kill me and my friends.”
Kim looked up at Billy as she continued, and she could see the worry written all over her face. “It didn’t end well. We’re all okay, but as for Ayla, I can’t say.”
Billy looked to one side, and then made a low laugh at the thought. “Huh. Well, I can’t blame you for wanting closure. For the longest time, I wanted to do the exact same thing. If it wasn’t for my right ear, I’d have found that shark-toothed psycho a long time ago.”
Kim’s perked up, and it was now she noticed the small, tan-colored hearing aid within the confines of Billy’s ear.
With only one fully functioning eardrum, It was clear her days of using song effects were over. Kim didn’t even want to think about what that must be like.
Still, it was no surprise that Billy also happened to be a Music Master.
Her brother had obviously been one, after all. Despite that, questions continued to gnaw at her brain.
“Eh, forget about it. She’s old news. There’s so much I want to ask you, and I don’t even know where to start.” Kim admitted, and in response, Billy smiled.
“I do. You want to know how we met?”
Kim snickered. “Don’t tell me my brother tried that stupid line of his.”
Billy laughed. “The one about pineapple pizza? Nah, that one was on our second date. He knew it was so bad, he was saving it once he knew I already liked him.”
“We were suitemates during 2000’s Audio Supremacy. The one thing he wouldn’t shut up about was how I fit into my skinny jeans. That’s how I kind of knew.”
Kim mused over that particular line of thought. “He won Audio Supremacy. I remember that whole thing vaguely, it was so long ago. But that’s where the nice house, the money, everything came from…”
Billy nodded in agreement. “Well, that should be expected if you prove yourself among every other competing Music Master in the whole world. I still don’t get why he insisted on bringing me to that fancy place uptown afterwards though.”
A familiar memory sparked in Kim’s mind. “Oh, I remember that! He was wearing a suit that didn’t fit. And a bow tie. I was like six and I couldn’t stop laughing.”
“Hey, he made me get dressed up too. That place must have cost a fortune.” Billy remembered.
She then leaned down, pulling out a small table drawer as she reached for something seemingly innocuous within. She didn’t say another word as she placed the small, velvet box on the table.
Popping it open, she revealed a bright sea blue gem ring inside.
Kim almost didn’t know how to respond. The cool blue color seemed to draw her in completely.
“Needless to say, I kept this. Among other things.”
She closed the box back up, leaving it on the table as Kim debated the whole situation in her mind.
After all the fighting with Ayla, it was only now that she felt she finally had time to stop and think.
And when she thought about Seth and his goofy smile, she found herself descending into a similar place once again.
“How do you deal with it?” Kim asked honestly, trying her best to hold back tears. “Without Seth, I feel like…I’ll never be okay.”
Billy sighed. “Well, I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that I’m not okay either. I mean, I loved him. We both did.”
Kim seemed unconvinced. “So that’s it then, huh? We get to stay screwed up forever?”
Billy tried her best to sound optimistic, leaning forward on the couch as she put a comforting hand on Kim’s shoulder.
“You’re right to feel down. Things won’t ever be the same without him. You can’t really sugar coat that.”
A thought suddenly came into Billy’s mind before she continued. She never was good at explaining things like this.
“Tell you what, you like punk rock too, right? There’s a song I listen to that might give you some clarity. Give me a second.”
With that, she was up and out. Within two minutes, she was back with a large portable stereo and a binder full of CDs. As Billy flipped through the binder, Kim clicked on the stereo to open the CD slot.
“…Live to Five?” Kim said, clearly confused at the CD inside.
Billy leaned over and plucked that CD out in response. “No, not that. That’s from some new acapella group called the Pop 5. A friend lent it to me. Not really my thing.”
Billy’s expression lit up as she placed the correct CD down into the stereo. “This is what I was talking about!”
Kim sat back, watching as the CD spun as Billy closed the lid of her red-rimmed stereo. With one black-nailed finger, she clicked forward four times.
Kim allowed herself to relax as the song began, a loud series of chords that transitioned into desperate, almost pained singing.
There was silence between Kim and Billy as the sound played loudly in her apartment.
Truthfully, she’d never really liked My Chemical Romance.
She’d only used Desolation Row as a rare exception; it was a song effect that had proved infinitely useful upon Harmonization. Unlike most of the older punk bands she listened to, Kim couldn’t stand the teenage angst that seemed to permeate most of these newer pop-punk songs.
On some level, she felt it below her.
However, that was not the case with this song.
In that simple three minutes and eight seconds, she found encapsulated all of her hopes and fears of the last ten years.
It was tough to admit, especially to herself, but it represented much of the confused teenage emotions that she often denied from herself.
And so, Kim remained silent as the song finished. She no longer felt sadness, but more like acceptance.
Billy finally spoke as she found the CD case belonging to this particular album, clicking it closed. “Hopefully that helped. I might not be able to Harmonize anymore, but at least I can still listen to music.”
“So if I get this right…I’m still not okay, and that’s okay?” Kim asked, still mulling over the meaning of the song lyrics.
“Exactly.” Billy assured, handing the CD over to Kim, who took it in her hands. “Borrow that, if you want. I get the feeling I’ll be seeing you around anyway.”
She smiled, and Kim just laughed in response.
“You know, Michael told me the exact same thing. Funny how things happen like that, huh?”
“Ooooo, who’s Michael?” Billy teased. “Someone special?
Kim laughed out loud, to the point where she had to stop herself lest neighbors hear her.
“Ha! As if!”
Her expression relaxed a moment later. “No, he’s just a good friend. I’m lucky to still have friends.”
Billy nodded in approval. “Aren’t we all? Hey, you know where to find me. You ever need anything, I’m always here.”
Kim stood up, eyeing the CD again. It had gone from just a piece of recorded music to something incredibly dear and special.
Without warning, Kim hugged Billy tightly. Caught off guard at first, Billy slowly warmed up to it.
“Thanks, Billy.” Kim said, clearly grateful beyond words.
Billy’s voice remained kind and honest.
“Anytime, Kim. Anytime.”
It only took a few minutes for Kim to make her way back to the front of the building, but she found herself stopping at the top of the stoop.
Michael and Aeris had both already texted her, and the plans for the day were set.
A movie, and then maybe St. Marks Place for the arcade. A worthy and well-deserved rest after all the madness in Astroland.
Even Calvin would be there, it seemed. Turns out his schedule was open today.
Kim laughed at the thought. She remained unsurprised.
In her hand remained the album given to her by Billy, namely My Chemical Romance’s Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. She admired it again, gazing at the cover art and feeling the cool, smooth plastic of the case in her fingers.
Out of whim, she opened the case just to see the CD itself.
Upon doing so, her eyes widened, and she almost dropped the case from shock.
Folded inside, above the liner notes, was an old polaroid picture.
It showed the image of younger Billy sitting on the stoop in front of her apartment. On the left was Kim, six years old and dressed in a bright yellow sundress, her stuffed duck Albert under her arm.
Between them was the same blue mohawk-wearing, Hawaiian shirt-clad jokester that she called an older brother. Seth Ramone flashed a grin that would make Michael jealous, arms out as the most perfect moment with all three of them was captured forever.
A tear dropped from Kim’s eye, slightly staining the photo. She rubbed it away quickly, not wanting to ruin such a precious keepsake.
It was a memory she had forgotten, but she’d clearly met Billy before.
How else would she have been so willing to welcome her, just like that?
A warm feeling flowed up through Kim’s stomach at thought, and she checked her phone again.
She didn’t want to keep anyone waiting, lest she fade away in their memory.
Maybe one day, she might truly understand why Michael was always so glad.
For now though, she was happy enough with the thought of her waiting friends.
For the first time in a long time, there would be no sad tomorrow.